Dr Nomusa Shezi
Specialist Neurosurgeon at Inkosi Albert Luthuli
Dr Nomusa Shezi works as a specialist neurosurgeon for the Department of Health within the Department of Neurosurgery at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital.
Dr Shezi qualified in 2017 as the first African female neurosurgeon in KwaZulu-Natal and went on to complete a Master of Medicine in Neurosurgery at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine in 2019.
Dr Shezi states that her career path has been shaped by a myriad of experiences. Her biggest motivators have been her father, who was a pastor, and her mom, who worked in the health sector. Dr Shezi says that they both shaped how she looked at the world and how she could be of service to
her community. “My dad inspired me to find how I could be of service to my community amidst apparent hopelessness, and also instilled in me the pursuit of excellence with failure not being an option. Initially, when I said I wanted to be a doctor, my mom would take me to the HIV clinics and introduce me to the doctors that were working there, so that I would know what I was getting myself into.”
Her other inspiration has been God, who has been the centre of her identity regardless of what happens around her, success or failure. In addition, Dr Shezi says she stays true to herself. “I believe that if I work hard and achieve what seems impossible; others will see their ‘impossible’ dreams as feasible.”
The challenge of sexism
Dr Shezi says that the first challenge she faced was after completing her matric. She attended Pietermaritzburg Girls High, which was an all-girls school and there she learnt how to interact with people from different walks of life. “When I went into medicine, I met up with the academic challenges and the social challenges of meeting racism, for the first time, in a more overt manner, and realised that some people can judge your intellectual capacity based on your gender, which was disheartening.”
The next challenge Dr Shezi faced was joining the male dominated neurosurgery department. She commented, “Currently in government, I am the only female who is a neurosurgeon amongst six other men. In the province, there are three females in total, probably against ten male neurosurgeons. The challenge of sexism is sometimes overt, and sometimes just subjective, which is one of the biggest challenges that I have had to face. I had to see myself as a neurosurgeon, even if no one else in the room could see me as a neurosurgeon.”
Another challenge was learning how to deal with failure. Dr Shezi had never failed an exam all the way to becoming a doctor until she started training as a neurosurgeon. Writing an examination and not succeeding, she says, was painful but it was an important lesson as she learnt that failures don’t define you. “That lesson has served me well because not every patient I touch has a favourable outcome, and I need to always aim for excellence in my work without giving up should I fall short. Those challenges, as painful as they were, shaped my worldview, so now I am able to be gentler with myself, forgive myself and still find motivation to continue without external validation.”
Set a vision for yourself
Her future work goal is to establish a functional neurosurgery unit within the neurosurgery department in the public sector. “I’m very passionate about functional neurosurgery because I think it’s not just enough for us to save lives by removing brain tumours, but it is also important to provide therapy to improve the quality of life to those with debilitating disorders like Parkinson’s disease in the underserved public sector.”
In advising other females or any person, she states that it is essential to set a vision for yourself even if it seems impossible to other people. “It’s impossible until you do it,” she explained. “There are a lot of distractions in life that aim to derail you, whether they are good or bad, or friends, or family. My motto in life is to never let someone’s dysfunction determine my destiny, someone’s dysfunction of misogyny must not determine whether I step into the room, someone’s dysfunction of seeing my melanin must not determine my destiny, someone’s dysfunction of looking at my background, how I speak, how I present myself, must not determine how I pursue or reach my goals.”
Her second biggest advice is to believe in where you are going, as the voices of people that you allow to influence you, will have a great impact on how you move forward and the things you achieve. “Sometimes you will not be celebrated along the journey; people celebrate at the end, but that does not make your goal impossible, so set your vision and focus on that,” she adds.
Open the door
Most importantly, she says, is to be the change you want to see. “The fact that I’ve gone through challenges means that the person that comes after me, must not go through the same challenges.” As the lone female in her department, Dr Shezi says that whenever any female joins the unit, she endeavours always to avail herself for any advice, guidance or mentorship. She says, “I believe it’s of huge importance when we move into spaces where we might be the lone voice, to always make sure that you open the door behind you, so that eventually you are not the lone person. If you get a chance to get a seat at the proverbial table, you must own the seat to allow others to follow suit.”
In conclusion Dr Shezi says, “The biggest part for me is making yourself available to serve others and aim for collective success. How I foster this version of success is making sure that in the space I own, I allow as many others around me, more especially females, the support to succeed. When I’ve done my 25 percent, someone will do the next 25 percent and we’ll reach 100 percent of whatever vision of perfection within neurosurgery in the province looks like.”